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Chicago’s Father Michael Pfleger removed from ministry over new sexual abuse allegations

Jonah McKeown   By Jonah McKeown for CNA

Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church in Chicago, celebrates Mass at the church Nov. 22, 2015. (CNS photo/Jim Young, Reuters)

St. Louis, Mo., Oct 16, 2022 / 12:50 pm (CNA).

A well-known Chicago priest has been asked to step aside from ministry during an investigation into an allegation of sexual abuse against a minor.

Father Michael Pfleger, senior pastor at St. Sabina parish and a well-known social activist, will live away from his parish while the allegation — which he denies — is investigated. The alleged abuse occurred more than 30 years ago, the archdiocese says.

In an Oct. 15 letter, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said Pfleger has “agreed to cooperate fully” with the request to step aside from ministry following the allegation made to the Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review.

As is required by archdiocesan child protection policies, the allegation was reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and law enforcement, Cupich wrote. The archdiocese has begun its investigation and “we will do our best to keep you informed,” the cardinal pledged.

“The person making the allegation has been offered the services of our Victim Assistance Ministry and the archdiocese has begun its investigation and we will do our best to keep you informed,” Cupich wrote.

St. Sabina pastor Father Thulani Magwaza will serve as parish administrator in Pfleger’s stead, Cupich wrote, and noted that until Magwaza returns from a visit with family in early November, Father David Jones will serve as temporary administrator.

This marks the second allegation of sexual abuse leveled against Pfleger in the past two years; after three men brought forward allegations in early 2021, Pfleger was reinstated that June after a Chicago archdiocese investigation concluded there was “insufficient reason” to suspect he was guilty of the allegations, which he had denied.

In an Oct. 15 statement of his own, Pfleger complained that “the process of the Archdiocese today is that a priest is presumed guilty until proven innocent.” He said his status as a “high-profile,” “outspoken” and “controversial” person has engendered “jealousy, attacks, and hate.”

“Let me be clear — I am completely innocent of this accusation,” he wrote. “It seems like most of my ministry I have spent fighting to stay a priest and to continue the work of justice, and to serve the good people of St. Sabina’s and our community. I cannot express how difficult, disruptive, and painful this process is to me and those who are close to me.”

A Chicago native, Pfleger has spoken out against the epidemic of gun violence in the city’s South Side that has afflicted his parishioners at St. Sabina’s, a predominantly African-American parish community. Pfleger adopted an 8-year-old boy in 1981 and another son in 1992. In 1997 he became the foster father of another city youth who was killed in a gang shootout in 1998.

The priest’s actions have put him at the center of controversy for years. The late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago suspended Pfleger in 2011 after the priest threatened to leave the priesthood if George reassigned him. The cardinal later accepted Pfleger’s apology and reinstated him as St. Sabina’s pastor. In 2019, Cupich publicly denounced Pfleger’s decision to invite controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to speak at St. Sabina.

Pfleger has voiced support for the ordination of women as Catholic priests, a position that the Church has held to be incompatible with the Catholic understanding of the priesthood.

Pfleger also attracted attention and criticism for a Dec. 2021 Christmas Eve Mass that featured jazz musicians, choreographed dances around the altar, and theatrical lighting effects. Many of those upset by the Mass said it crossed the line from worship to entertainment.

Contacted by CNA at the time, Pfleger declined to answer questions about the Christmas Eve liturgy.

“These are some of the same people that attack Pope Francis and Cardinal Cupich and have ignored the gift and value of Black Catholicism in the Catholic Church, so I am not responding to their attacks,” Pfleger said in an email.

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  1. It is high time that Canon Law for the universal Church forbids any cleric in celibacy to legally adopt a child. Anyone with half an ounce of brains would know that this is extraordinarily imprudent. And, besides, a good pastor would certainly be able to find a Catholic married couple (and of course that can only be one man and one woman) in his parish who would make exemplary parents to a child needing adoption. Let’s remember that adoption, just like raising any child, is to satisfy the needs of the child and never a child there to satisfy the parents’ needs.

  2. Thank you Lord for continuing to expose yet another flaw in the Catholic church.

    The Catholic concept of the priesthood is unscriptural and didn’t even originate until the 3rd century. Furthermore, there is no reference to such titles as archbishop, cardinal, or pope, and the requirement of the celibacy of the priesthood is an idea condemned by the Apostle Paul (1 Timothy 4:1-3). In fact, when Paul listed the qualifications for bishops (elders), he stated that they must “not have been married more than once” (1 Timothy 3:2; see also Titus 1:6).

    • Christ was a priest, was he not? If Christ is not in the Bible, well, I’ll be damned!

      Good Catholic priests model their ministries and their lives on the life of Christ. This is the ideal, the reason, the model which the Catholic Church holds as the ideal and the practice.

      Thank you for your interest and your displaced love against/for the Catholic Church. Your flaws are brilliantly misinformed but definitely very scriptural. Christ warned his followers against ideas like yours.

      • Christ fulfilled the roles of prophet, priest and king. If you read the New Testament (Book of Hebrews for sure), you will notice these are no longer in Christ’s church. He has and always will be the focus to Christians, unlike Catholics who worship and pray to numerous creatures.

        • Your mistaken beliefs beg correction. The good Catholic worships no one other than God. The poor Christian may persist in ignorance, however.

          It is true that Christ brought to perfection the role of prophet, priest, or king. Only a rebellious and contentious spirit would thereby claim that Christ’s disciples should not aspire to imitate Christ’s perfections. Just as Christ required that his disciples carry their crosses, He also commanded that they aspire to the Father’s perfection. Perhaps you missed those words of the Christ in your version of Scripture.

          Perhaps you could benefit from a good Catholic Catechism class.

    • I assume you are not a Catholic. The Church has been self destructive enough in last sixty or so years. We need neither advice nor the tiresome scriptural point/counterpoint from protestantism. Either you believe in a Sacramental Faith or you don’t. As for a celibate or contemplative life; it looks more attractive and enduring than ever in this sex-drenched culture.

  3. Of course suspensions, let alone stronger disciplining measures, never occur when priests are outspoken supporters of crushing the skulls of the unborn.

  4. Not a Pfleger fan, but I can’t help but imagine that after the nth or so false accusation people are hoping to get some settlement cash from an easy target.

    • Yes, those were my thoughts as well. I don’t agree with or support him in any way, but how do you defend yourself against an accusation of something that might have happened 30 years ago. Sounds questionable at the very least.

  5. I get no joy from this. I’d much rather have read that Fr. has renounced all his heterodox views. I’ll bet that he consistently votes for candidates from the party of death (dem) and fails to see how they are responsible for the violence that permeates Chicago. Fr. Pfleger share in the culpability for those gun deaths in Chicago.

  6. Cardinal Cupich is quick to destroy and punish any TLM supporters in his Archdiocese, but an elderly hippie heretic guilty of profaning the Mass every single Sunday is above reproach and untouchable, even for accusations of sexual abuse, unless they become too public to ignore.

  7. Hypothetically speaking, if similiar accusations begin to be made about James Martin, SCH, will he also be removed from the ministry?

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Chicago’s Father Michael Pfleger removed from ministry over new sexual abuse allegations | Passionists Missionaries Kenya, Vice Province of St. Charles Lwanga, Fathers & Brothers
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  3. Chicago’s Father Michael Pfleger Removed from Ministry Over New Sexual Abuse Allegations | Headline of the Day

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